Rose Thorn

Non-Fiction, Poetry

By: Steven Underwood

A Poem on betrayal and endings.

***

I loved my brother more than me

And with this love he stole from me;

I loved my mother more than god

And she owned my life with a broken rod;

I chose my love with catered rose

But lost my love in bitter throws;

Heart so pure once filled with error

I fixed the crack with twisted terror.

 

I hated my brother more than I

And blackened my heart with anger’s dye;

I resented my mama with acid ire

And chose only dark desire.

I buried my lovely with withered rose

And forgot her love beneath my toes;

Heart so black filled with pain

For a new world I wish to gain.

 

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#TRENDSETTER: mufaro limited, Cincinnati, OH

#TRENDSETTER, Fashion, Non-Fiction

By: Steven Underwood

Product Rating: 4/5

Ohio has a lot of inspiring artists walking the scarlet pavements, and even more inspiring black businesses. On the suggestion of model, Brandon Watters, I decided to look for one instead of supporting some white enterprise and feeding the capitalist agenda. I still ended up feeding the capitalist agenda, but I also ordered one of my new favorite tops.

Mufaro’s boutique is a collection of largely unisex East African-inspired streetwear. The founder, Mufaro (IG: mufaro_ltd), is a Zimbabwean born designer from Cincinnati, Ohio who was featured in numerous fashion shows including the Ankara Miami fashion week, the RAW Artist showcase, and the Emani +Mufaro Expose in Dallas, Texas. Mufaro LTD.

But, even with these ventures under his breath, I only really needed to know he was an Ohio artist, and I leapt right into his site and put my coin into his purse.

I ordered the Dashiki Extended Shirt/Skirt ($60.00). A neat black long sleeve with a flowing skirt covered in Zimbabwean-inspired print and three zippers on either side and up the tail. It is a unisex piece that men can wear as an extended tee (which I do), or as a skirt.

Photos courtesy of Mufaro LTD homepage

Ever since I collected the shirt, I have worn it exactly five times, and it has never failed to impress. It’s infinitely versatile: suitable for numerous occasions and makes a very clear statement about what I am about. I get compliments and unlike when I usually try out something new in my style choices, I don’t feel any bit of self-consciousness and hyper visibility. The one issue that I encounter is that many of the western-inspired styles that frequent my closet do not – or cannot really match the design choice. But, I enjoy a challenge; and this outfit gives me a challenge to own my own unique style – because style should never come easy, especially when you’re doing it for yourself and not for the power in the brand.

The design is beautiful, and the only real difficulty I had with the end product was a trouble with the stitching that came undone on the inseam when stretched just a little too much when I pulled the shirt on. Still, the product is beautiful.

***

mufaro limited New line imagined by Zimbabwean born Mufaro (male) Based in Ohio (Cincinnati) Inquiries|mufaroltd@gmail |Ankara Miami fashion week www.mufaroltd.com

Friend(ship)

Non-Fiction, Poetry

By: Steven Underwood

A Poem on failed relationships.

***

If I ever regretted the first bump

On the bus between me and you,

I do now.

We once stood on the same road

That now converges

Across the ebb and flow of time and

I don’t know when did the stake

Wedge us apart.

I found solace in the pain

That you inflicted

With silence,

With ignorance

With treatment

And

Mistreatment

The duality of your sins.

I told myself love, platonic or romantic,

Hurts.

I cast myself in the play

I participated in that narrative.

It killed me.

But, I learned our lives were sometimes,

Like the phoenix,

Ever-rising.

I fooled myself into that narrative.

Little did I know that

My fire was not infinite.

My heat would cool.

I can no longer suffer the agony and so I

Sing to the Baptist choir a salvation,

Or, at least, I hope I do.

 

Do you know that in some parts we are infamous?

We writhe and twist and bite and snarl and snap and break and scream and shout and banter and bark and hurt and hurt and hurt,

But when does it end?

When do we stop being the villains of a narrative, of a song, of a poem, of a world that is not our own?

Can we cease and desist?

Just seek to be friends?

Amicable in the silence?

Okay with just what is already there?

I think we could.

I just want you to talk to me.

I don’t like the silence.

In the silence, I feel like I am shattering and breaking.

I think about the absence in darkness, the liquor of the mind —

I feel my chest quake –

I feel warm wetness across my eyes –

I think mine eyes leak and drip and dribble and steam –

I don’t like this feeling, this silence is too loud –

I just want you to talk to me –

I just want to know that it’s okay.

You’re my best friend, and I’m yours –

I signed my name in self-drawn blood across the dotted lines of contract:

to be your shield –

to always be your shield.

So please, obey the terms and conditions and talk to me!

No one else gets it!

You do, so open your mouth and speak the aria and keep the moths in,

because I know, that sometimes, when you speak death escapes your lips and condemns me!

I only just wanted you to talk to me.

To care about me.

To be my friend,

Because I never knew I could have one.

Because I was neglected.

Because I was abused

Because I’ve lived in my kin’s shadows

Because you stand out while even in shadows

Because when I met you, I captured just a little of that light and turned it into my might and sat on a throne and knew I could shatter bone.

You’re my friend, I know you are.

I just –

I figured –

I always thought you would show me you were my friend.

Instead your silent.

Instead your mean.

Instead you justify your cruelty

Instead I’m second fiddle.

Instead, you don’t like to speak to me.

You treat me different.

You  are disgusted by my presence.

You think I’m emotional.

You say I’m superficial.

You called me a charity case.

You treated me like I was the nail and you were the hammer

Always smashing my back down when I Stood out.

Making sure I was stuck in one place, and could never grow.

Instead, you never supported me.

Never opened my books, read my words, spoke of me when I was ignored.

Instead you told him it was okay to hate me for being born a way.

You said my fire was a figment of my imagination.

That the burning light was your reflection standing beside me.

You hypocrite

You liar.

You monster.

Have you ever felt emotion?

Have you ever cared for someone when they didn’t worship you?

Do you only care when you’re on top?

Because you lash out when others do better than you.

Because you spit on those beneath you.

Because you manipulate those who love you.

I think I hate you.

I think somewhere deep down I hate you.

I hurts my heart, but I do.

I resent you.

I hate that you are not supposed to be anything to me.

That I shouldn’t care.

But I do.

And I hate you more fr it.

Because This hate could be love.

It could be our brotherhood.

It could be us against the world,

Side-by-side,

But it won’t happen.

Because you’re so silent!

Well, here is me:

being silent too.

#TRENDSETTER: Brandon Watters, Columbus, OH

#TRENDSETTER, Articles, Culture, Non-Fiction

Brandon Watters, 22, Columbus, OH; Fashion and Acting

IG: Brandoooonnn

Twitter: @NoOtherName_ 

Inspirations: Jaden Smith, ASAP Rocky, Frank Ocean, Mace Windu, Deadpool

***

By: Steven Underwood

Brandon Watters collects DVDs: rows of them, and he watches them in the mostly remodeled basement of his family house in one of the more suburban neighborhoods of Columbus, Ohio.  When we were younger, it was like a cold prison: four dense white walls of cinder with too few power outlets and an itchy carpet that we turned into a teenage paradise.

Even then, that room had more DVDs than necessary. Some were his father’s, a large, stern black man with a pair of ever watching eyes. But most of those DVDs belonged to Brandon. His most prized and prestigious collection of every movie you wouldn’t realize to think of from action-adventure to obscure heart-wrenching dramas.

And if you ask Brandon why he collects these DVDs, he will shrug at you: “Bruh, this is art.”

Brandon and I have been cool since the day he walked onto my bus with a semi-tall curly afro and a green sweater. He was easily impressionable, and did a lot to hide the talents he thought people didn’t: it was basketball, or nothing.  At the time, I don’t know what made me choose him, but I did and since that day I’ve been defensive and protective of the man I knew he could become.

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Post-fashion show, Watters chills in a turtle neck and chain complete with a furry staple.

Now, he wears face-length dreads, leather jackets and buys his pants from the female section of unisex clothing stores. He loves to thrift shop and, soaking wet, he maybe weighs the combined weight of all three dogs he’s lost. And, just like me, and many members of the Columbus Underground of Artistry, he is an artist whose sensitive about his shit.

“I kinda just express the moment.” He says when describing his art form. “I don’t wanna say how I feel, so I express what I feel in that situation. Like if it’s raining, my outfit will reflect it. I embody that time. Even when I’m taking pictures, I think about something someone said about me and that will be my caption. It will be my response. Something I will say in a certain moment”

Brandon is naturally anti-social despite the charismatic image he adopts like an armor to protect himself. It makes him seem more radiant than he is, and somehow it’s this armor that causes people to float towards him at their own peril. Vanishing over the course of a week or a month isn’t anything foreign for him, no matter who is looking for him. During his Caspar days, he’s shoulder deep in a project he wants to perfect. Other times, he is just in that same basement as our teen years, isolated in that basement with his DVDs.

But this need to isolate himself is something that has caused much friction between him and others whom he deems to love. My own personal friends have asked me personally why are we friends. “The way you talk about him, i’ve always expected that nigga to be this suave, charismatic, awesome nigga who glows,” said my own friend, Jan. “I kept expecting some fine cross between Michael B. Jordan, Idris Elba and Trevante Rhodes with the way you painted him.”

Other less blunt people have just rolled their eyes when he and I were in the same room and just bluntly ask: “Yo, why are you two friends?”

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Watters upstairs from the infamous basement.

To both of these kinds of people, I have no idea what to say afterwards (especially to the former, because the implications is always that I’m not “worthy” to even associate with him). Both perspectives are valid, though, we’re so dissimilar on the surface: maybe it’s something that I just see in him that he conveys via his Art?

After all, it isn’t necessarily that we have a lot in common: he’s athletic, and I’m not. I express love in the most open and warming ways, and he doesn’t. He tries to maintain this image of himself with a certain kind of power, and I do what I want, when I want in a devil-may-care attitude, while veiling my own real power behind a carefully tapered cloak. I was raised to be a loving brother-in-arms, and he has been raised to be in solitude.

How we see each other, and why I’ve strived to make a friendship last the trials of post-graduation and three states in distance…It’s always been something that you would have to grow up with us to understand.

The twenty-two-year-old, like me, is a proud Franklin Heights Alum. Heights is a high school set in Southwest Columbus between the shiny suburban neighborhoods and what is widely considered the ghetto of the city. It was there we learned the imperative of hard work through shitty lunches, and a year without sports or extracurricular activities. We watched kids fight one another just to have something worth fighting for; talk loudly just to remind everyone that they had a void and thought within the now because the pain of now was the only thing present.

It was a place of hard knuckles, hard hearts and harder heads; where you needed fangs and claws and a sharp tongue to remain on top of your own life and not be crushed by your environment. An experience like that is life-bonding, and that helped us both make it out.

If you ask us now, we don’t know what made us different than the others who were swallowed by the city we both loved. The place we claim as our artistic homelands.

We suspect it was because we had people – and by we, I mean I: I know those days despite anything that happened, we knew we had each other – Brandon, I, and our friends; we had a way of inspiring each other to express who we were. We did it through performance mostly (even I dabbled in dance for two years), but others took mild inspirations where they could find it and applied it to something secret and theirs. Yet, no matter what, it always expressed the cacophony of characters we had at Heights. At the time, we – everyone, Brandon included –thought the interest that struck Brandon was his athletics as a varsity point guard.

Brandon was a Baller. His father created the mold that he would fill that was exactly that. Everyday after school, dribbling up and down the asphalt drive way, practicing the right way to dunk, to pass, to make the J from middle court. He practiced in the rain; the sun; in fog. Brandon was a Point guard and that was it. He was an Academic, sometimes. But that was it, Brandon’s hobbies revolved around a spotted, orange ball and a netted hoop a foot in diameter.

Sophomore Year of High School, Brandon Watters was cut from the Basketball team.

“I realized I wasn’t going to the NBA at a very young age. I realized that this wasn’t going to happen. And I lowkey wasn’t trying to push it, but everyone kept trying to push me. I got cut, though. That was the biggest reality check. I mean I was a weird kid, I’ve been drawing since the age of one, I’ve been watching weird shit since age one.”

Weirdness is something that captivated Brandon for a long time. One of the many things Brandon veils behind his armor is a love for the alternative interests commonly refered to as Nerd Culture. There were days in our youth when I would wake up from the middle of sleep to find him looking through my own ULTIMATE X-MEN issues. He never mentioned he was reading them out loud to me, ever. It became a secret that he never knew I knew until I brought it up to him one day.

When the first and pivotal AVENGERS movie debuted, we all went in one large group and watched the movie through the end credits and Brandon personally pretended that he didn’t know who Thanos was. When I asked him why, he tried to laugh in an involuntary sigh of charisma. “I ain’t want to seem like a nerd.”

His Netflix account has a lot of provocative shit: BEETLEBORG marathons, a soiree with the season-long series, PUSH, and even the hit DC TV show, YOUNG JUSTICE. He is just a bit more open about what he loves now. Yet, there still seems to be that involuntary distancing between Fashion Brandon and Nerd Brandon, as if both could never live together in unity within his being — because, you know, black men are never allowed to be multi-faceted.

“I especially love YOUNG JUSTICE. Anytime I need some inspiration, I sit down and watch some old episodes over again. Especially the dark episodes.” He said “Knowing I wouldn’t go far in sports took me a far place. I want to be what I want to be. Art is something I really enjoy watching.”

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A turtle neck is always a signature look.

Brandon dabbles in a bit of everything for his Art. For a time, his Art was acting. Brandon took several acting classes and submerged himself in the lore of the craft. He went to many Theater shows just for the hell of it: to see actual actors at work, forming expressions and formulating their dialogue. “I was going to a theater show. I love watching it because they’re artists. They’re artists, but they’re acting in real time. You will never see that play again. You can see the plot again, but this performance? Never again.“

During NYFW 2017, Brandon had the courtesy of walking for a few fashion designers after meeting with them in Cincinnati. He was one of a handful of Columbus artists to appear during any of the shows that week. For the first time in a while, Heights students were pounding the pavement throughout the Gotham city.

Though I never told him, I was very proud of his accomplishment. Brandon, as a person, is known uniformly by his nearly open charisma and shining smile. He laughs off pain and shrugs it down as if that careless motion could send years of darkness cascading off like small black raindrops off a raincoat. A certain kind of person will look at him and think they can know him in totality: as a Fashionista, as an Asshole, as an Anti-Altruist, as a Player who deflects love of any kind. The more observant person will notice something softer beneath the surface that craves the need to express itself at any stakes and at any cost. I see an amalgamation of many things: some of which is positive, some of which is negative and recognize that complexity of him as a person. I embrace that he is, in-fact, a multifaceted black artist.

But when he walked during NYFW, as a Columbus’s one true son, and as someone I’ve personally see grow large enough to survive in both the dark of day and the light of night, I was proud to say that I was right about this young artist from my city.

I was right the day I saw his curly afro on the bus when I thought he was going to shine and everyone had to be there to see it. Even if he’d have to shine without me.

#PROJECTSEPTEMBER: Look of the Week 2/14/17

Fashion, Non-Fiction

Project September‘s Look of the Day goes to GETTYIMAGES. Model Christian Vierig’s look channels a classic 70’s aesthetic with a clash of patterns that blows a calm, collect-yet-posh ambience. In an ASOS Faux Fur Collar in White ($12.50); TOPMAN’s Mens Black and White Check Skinny Chinos ($65.00); TOPMAN’s Mens Blue Selected Homme Ribbed Shirt ($85.00); GUCCI 40MM BUCKLE LEATHER BELT ($420.00); RAY-BAN Aviator Sunglasses ($139.00); and DERMSTORE’s Tangle Teezer Thick Curly — Dark Red ($16.00), Vierig’s look combines prestige and lavishness.

Project September can be found on all iOS and Android devices. 

#TRENDSETTER: Top 5 Things I Wish I Could Make for Men’s Clothing

Non-Fiction

By: Steven Underwood

You know how you have a bunch of brilliant and creative ideas, but none of the skill to actually make those things? Well, Men’s NYFW just ended; NYFW Fall/Winter 2k17 is on its way; and I had a bunch of ideas that I just can’t accomplish with my own meager hands.

***

  1. Sleeveless Navy Deepwash Trench: Imagine a trench coat made of denim in that jean deep wash blue that is basically designed to stain your white clothing into disuse. Its one solid color all over with a single pocket on the inside (for the convenient cell phone use) and two exterior pockets on either side. At the sleeves, it is stealthily cut to create a form of waistcoat cut — but wait! There are a series of thin, worn, distressed strips that have been washed in such a way that you now have two faded mans hanging just off your shoulders like faux-fur manes (except for your — you know… shoulders).
  2. Free Flowing Tunics: 2k17 has to mean the return of the tunic. And not just any tunic, the gawdy and flashy sort with more bends and twists than a mandala. Lets bring back the flashy back into men’s fashion. Everyone can wear a dark shade with very little stitching, but to pull off contrasting patterns like this? Challenging!
  3. Vintage Free Flowing Long Sleeves:  I think everyone who knows me knows I enjoy a large top over some jogger or skinny jeans. And the vintage bohemian look always appealed to me. I don’t know if its the pseudo-artsy appeal of it or the free mobility it allows, but it’s a look I love to try, except most of these looks require a lot of thrift store hunts and I’m ready for the style to become more mainstream. The time of looking like a model for a cheap romance novel is here. Let the wind untuck your shirt and nearly rip out a button!
  4. Floral Tops: Thanks in part to brands like Versace and Childish Gambino’s GUCCI ensemble in the WIRED photoshoot (seriously, Donald Glover is my fashion messiah sometimes, I swear), floral prints have made a comeback; and by comeback, I mean adjacent to modern standards  of masculine images. I like roses. It’s one of the most beautiful things of the French aristocracy: the use of flowers in textiles. I think its return could be beneficial. On satin, on wool, hell on bleached denim! It’s beautiful, it’s feminine, it’s individual!
  5. Flannel Skirts: Let’s stop fronting: we don’t just want to tie our flannel shirts around our waists anymore. The frompy look of the sleeve knots just won’t do. Just give us a skirt we can button or clip with a brooch and we are good to go!

But, sadly, I am just a humble writer. If you have any ideas, feel free to comment below and maybe some kind fashion designers will see kindly to contribute from your inspirational ideas!

Black Cat Blues

Art, Non-Fiction, Poetry

 

A Poem for the first day of Black History Month.

by Steven Underwood

 

***

The Black Graymalkin is never free;

Though liberated in city it appears to be;

Its leash, like thread, vanish in the eye;

But still held in chains till feline die.

 

Onyx Graymalkin, your roar is low,

If you are to speak, who would know?

Dense Graymalkin, you are meek,

Though your pelt is velvet, sleek.

Observant Graymalkin, you lurk in shade,

You hide from the daylight that whiteness made.

 

Black Graymalkin, are you me?

How cruel a society do you flee?

From whose ebony Pride are you bred?

From what dark skin do you shed?

 

Toil, Graymalkin, they will fear;

No love for loved ones you hold dear.

This world is black, dark like pitch;

And from your trouble this land grow rich.

Flee, Graymalkin, don’t you stray;

The present is black because you’re black all day.

 

Review: TACKMA

Fashion, Non-Fiction

A review of the boutique

Location: 844 N High St, Columbus, OH 43215

By Steven Underwood

I didn’t even know I was walking into a clothing store, if I’m being honest.

My friend, Matty, invited me out to an opening of some sort my last day in Columbus and I decided: why not, my brain is decaying in this house and I can blow a quarter C-note on an Uber.

Walking into the place, the first thing you notice is a pool table and a DJ booth. Today’s Hip-hop only, and it didn’t feel close to ashamed about it. I didn’t come to play: I gravitated to the clothes and began to pick through it. Hoodies, hats and trench-coats. Most of the clothes never dropping beneath a hundred dollars a pop. The most affordable objects in the entire room were the hats. Lucky for them, I was fake-balling for the day, so I didn’t turn around and leave.

But, I wasn’t going to blow more than a hundred there. I decided it was best to just bide my time, go to their online store and keep it simple. So, I blew 95 dollars on two hats because the material was like rubbing my hand across a suede jacket. I was judged by Matty, and I felt like I should be judged, but I’m a victim to the aesthetic.

Supporting Columbus business is also the goal of the day, really. I could’ve went across the street to the faux-bohemian boutique and blew a hundred dollars — hell, I was probably going to spent a hundred dollars online in a week anyway. The different? There were a lot of black faces in the store; the clothes were nice; and I have a hairline that’s evaporating like American patriotism in a post-Trump presidency: hats are vital. 

My issue (besides the pricing) was the lack of diversity in the boutique. There were hoodies and jackets, jacket and hoodies. Joggers, joggers and more joggers. All of them had essentially the same style, and none of it had any style that felt like it was…me.

In all, the place was great, though. I would’ve bought a hoodie and a jacket if I could stand. But, I’m a starving college student and Trump is my president. I’m hoarding my rubees for a McChicken on a snowy day (and I don’t even like McDonalds)

I give it four out of five stars that do not exist because they’re social constructs.

 

 

We the People in a Less Perfect Union

Art, Articles, Culture, Non-Fiction, Poetry

Sometimes, it’s better to look at the world through poetry until it starts to make a lick of sense.

***

On Monday, he wasn’t our president, and we celebrated the legacy of a man with as many faults as he had virtues. The skies held their breath, and a world of bright blue became bleak and cried. We remembered how we love the rain, but this was different.

Together, We investigated the landscape of the world. We judged the people of the time: for treating people like cattle, for their shameful attitudes, for their racism. We couldn’t see how these people, relatives, and friends to many of us, couldn’t see what was going on in front of them. That same day, we ignored many obvious clues that history was licking its fingertips and turning a few pages backward in its book just for emphasis.

On Tuesday, We pressed our thumbs to small digital boxes and opened Twitter. We discussed “Dr. King’s Dream,” and judged the black community according to it. Are we honoring him when we kneel during a pledge of allegiance? Is calling a white person racist acting in his image? Dr. King’s progeny got into the tabloids and said Dr. King would’ve liked Donald Trump. Our world cracked at the seams.

On Wednesday, We steeled ourselves for the worse, and found that our best metals were but rust: we would lose Barrack Obama. The skies remained gray, but the winds whipped with a sheering coldness. Tempers were high, and we fought each other. We lashed out, without really knowing what we were lashing out f. Anger for anger’s sake, a test of those chains we swore would remain. Both to unite us, and to shackle our ambitions.

On Thursday, We maintained the song of Monday. Dr. King’s progeny’s comments sang again. I stare blankly at the screen for a moment. This is someone who knew him best, isn’t it? I re-read a line by Fredrick Douglas, and I make us remember.
“Power concedes nothing without a Demand…It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows or with both. “
I take to this new world of zeroes and ones, and I make a declarative. “If we are to believe MLK would’ve supported Trump, then maybe MLK isn’t the person we should look up to?”
Few comment. Many have a feeling. The words hang in the air.
On Friday, the sky wept upon his head. Orange flushes down his face and drips onto the American soil beneath his feet. The brown in the soil becomes stained in chemical lies. We shake our hands and test these chains. We meditate on what others have decided for us. We ask ourselves how people could be so ignorant. We judge the people for many things: for their racism, for their bigotry, for their sexism, for their phobias.
History hasn’t turned her page.
The page becomes wet and the ink runs down the page. Our name runs with it. These symbols hold no more meaning.
On Saturday, we ask ourselves if we can be united when these important things have no more meaning.

Love with Hip-Hop

Art, Non-Fiction, Poetry

Hip-hop has the humanizing effect: it exists without gender, a body but is very definite and powerful human force. This is a poem regarding how I fell in love with hip-hop and all of its facets.

By Steven Underwood

The concrete jungle gave birth to the love of my life;

We met in my mama’s womb, I loved her on Monday mornings over the radio to the smell of fried potatoes and grits.

She be fickle, like the ether pounding her stereo speakers;

A chaotic rhythm: a smooth beat; the Deejay and the word-smith in her soul;

They explode together: unhinged.

She be quick-witted, the soles of her reeboks and Adidas changing course

And destination faster than anticipated.

I call her Hip, and she is the rhythm of the streets.

I kiss her, and she tastes like mid, tear drops, welfare cheese and too many broken promises.

Her voice sounds like the first crescendo of a Saturday night, like the last chime on a Sunday morning.

The concrete jungle gave birth to the love of my life;

We met on long car rides on a Philly Friday night, I loved him in prepubescent rages when rebellion filled my blood and constitution strengthened mine tongue.

He be beautifully savage, so mean when he just needs to be honest;

Sometimes I look him in the eye, and hear the legacy of a people burdened,

perturbed, bountied, bloodied and beaten.

He is my savage dissonance on a silent hill that bare witness to a macabre scenery;

I named him Hop, and he is the cold honesty, my thrilling passion.

He lashes with his tongue.

I kiss him, and he tastes like Hennessey, black-and-milds and too many repressions.

His voice is rough like a broken knuckle on a balled fist, like skin smacking the park mulch.

The concrete jungle gave birth to my best relationship;

We came together at the same time, but love each other different.

With him, I’m gentle, I hold him to my heart in a dark room where our anger can’t escape

Her, I’m rough, our electricity bounces off each block, like the lamp lights which guide us home.

Together, I’s become We’s,

You becomes a crew.

We hunt, love and kiss on the light of midnight;

We talk about what is new in the world,

We cry — we anguish over what is old.

We do our little dance to drums.

We mix these rhythms with something old too, something ancestral.

We like to make music to the conditions that built up our huts in this concrete jungle.

People are jealous of the sounds we make when we love together,

The wet, savage patter of our celebration.

They call us rap, and they are afraid of the primality of our songs.

We kiss, and it smell like how freedom feel; like the heartbreak of being just a friend;

She feel like the hot shower of a Candy Rain; She touches me in shapes of tic-tac-toe: all hugs and kisses. He feels the first steps of liberation; Our hearts collide; Our minds move into one synchronized beat; I twerk, she dabs; we become us — become a family, becoming individuals.

The concrete jungle gave me love.

I Should’ve Talked Black

Articles, Essays, Non-Fiction

First Published Here at Bananago Street:

An analysis on racial discourse in America.

By Steven Underwood

As a kindergartner, I came clamoring home to share with my mother a stark belief: I did not like white people. In my adolescent ignorance, I had forgotten my best friend Dylan, who was not only white, but shared my love of imagined worlds of magical wonder, which I still cling to, and true compassion, which has since brittled with age. My mom took the time to remind me of Dylan, to which I replied: “I don’t like white people, but I like him.” I’ve always felt that this was my first direct confrontation with race. Earlier, just shy of ten years old, I had been called a “Nigger” for the first time in my life. I, essentially, had been beaten with a weapon forged against me to prosper.

Of course, I had experienced racial micro-aggressions in my life. That one time, when I was six, when my mom had been arrested by the police because they said she “looked” like she had stolen her Purple Ford Taurus. This other time, when I was seven, when a boy’s father snatched one of my white classmates away from me on the playground in South Jersey and muttered about nappy hair under his breath. I was expected to be the most coordinated in basketball, the fastest in football, but the dumbest in my Reading and Math classes. Or, when my mother cradled me in her arms for the first time, and decided to change my name from the ethnically unique Alante to the more Eurocentric Steven.

In an unnecessary justification of my childhood assailant, I’d say the boy—that boy– was using words he hadn’t completely understood, as children do. He merely knew that this word was designed with malice, that he could hurt me using it. He’d been taught that he had the privilege to hurt others with this weapon, a belief that was reinforced by my teachers, all of whom were white, because when I neglected to properly defend myself, or my culture, with words or actions he was not chastised or reprimanded. Rather than taking up the duty to correct him, this boy would assume that he could always get away with certain hate speech because something in this world made it okay.

I reflect on this day, with the new adult ignorance I have acquired by a decade of wandering aimlessly through life pretending I know what I am doing, and realize that my mother had taken the opportunity to establish my bigotry as inherently wrong and something that should be punished. She took my words and used them against me to show how my hatred and bigotry could effect not just me in the long run, but those I love. She taught me to be ashamed of my prejudices.

My teacher, however, was trusted by parents and administrators to cater to help raise a child and did not ever do the same. Though this event may seem something so minor that an infraction is not necessary, we must understand that the systems of oppression within the country are in the subconscious, the things that we experience, and beliefs that are reinforced by context and action—or lack thereof. Early on, my teacher was offered a chance to discuss race but fled it and failed both of us.

Throughout those subsequent months, spanning a dozen more collied moon phases, my mother had realized I was developing into a black man. She took the time to set me aside and made it clear to me what that meant. Yes, she disclosed I would have to find my own meaning of blackness (which, I chose to define as passion for who I am and respect for those who sacrificed and built for me to be here today), but there was the customary topics of fears, concerns, and troubles that one of a similar background as mine might expect with this: Steven, in a situation with the police your life comes first, and what’s right comes second; Steven, not all of them have your best interest at heart and will pursue you with despite; and Steven, you will always have to try twice as hard to have half of what they have.

I did not believe her. I always remembered Dylan and the impact he had on my life and that I had equally been bullied by black kids as well as white. In my young life, I had experienced the troubles of blackness in this country and knew very well that there was something strange occurring. It was this same instinctual sense that told the children who was the parental favorite, though mom and dad often said they love you all equally. But, more importantly than the white friends I’ve gained in my classes, I had reasonable doubt to my mother’s feelings regarding race in this country.

My mother’s name is Tamara Fluellen. Even now, almost a whole foot smaller than me, she feels taller than me—roughly five feet of honey skin and beautiful weave taller than me. She was the only black person in Willingboro High School in Willingboro, New Jersey and therefore often faced ridicule by her white classmates– as the other. In one particular event, she told me of the day her male classmates attempted to attack her after school. There was a mob of them, but none of them faced punishment for attacking her. Tamara Fluellen had been a victim of a hate crime and had seen the hideousness of anti-blackness in this country. Someone who experienced this kind of hate, could not possibly speak without bias. Someone who was victim to this kind of pain, could not possible understand the good in others when lost in the cold and dark.

Unfortunately, at every possible turn, my mother was proven right. I recall my father once saying every time my mom was infallibly right about something she said as a moral, a heifer lost its spots. I am still worried about the amount of cows in this country who must be absolutely albino.

Blackness is not as celebrated in this country as it should be, at least not unless it is whitewashed and bastardized. Often, it is Cinderella trapped in the cellar. It is she who maintains the beauty and glory of a household built by her ancestry but doesn’t reap any of the benefits. It survives but does not live. It eats but is not nourished. I often find that I cannot talk about my blackness and how I enjoy or love it without someone chiming in that their whiteness is somehow in contrast or conflict with it. That my pride in who I am and my heritage is an attack on their culture.

In my late teens, I’d already learned that black culture was one of the most vital things in America. It is literally American culture, as American as baseball and the apple pie the slaves cooked. To be American, you are required to enjoy something that has either been influenced by or was directly associated with black culture. Music, art, fashion, all of it had its root in African-American influence but are not ever required to value it or its impact or even favor its people. You can always be white and wear cornrows and box braids, listen to rap music, wear African tribal prints or wear black face, but the same cannot be said for actual black people—who originated this culture. We witness an imbalance in privilege so severe that the privilege makes the other edgy and unique when worn in bastardization and appropriation. Yet, this is still often disregarded as myth. “We are all human, and human culture cannot be appropriated.” Or essentially “Cultural appropriation isn’t real.”

Often, when I say “Black Live Matter,” someone must always chime in with “All Lives Matter” and completely derail an entire conversation that could have been productive. When I enter settings that are designed to embrace black beauty in contrast to white beauty standards propagated for almost 500 years, someone must step in and say “White girls do it better.” They see these attempts for “pro-blackness” and see “anti-whiteness” because privilege dictates that anything that isn’t the normative is an attack—much like how pro-white was always supported by white supremacy.

At a distance, I can still sense the awkward shift of my peers in their skins when a discussion on the topic is started and to that I recall my teacher, in her seat, refusing to acknowledge the child who attacked me in class or those men who attacked my mother, all of who went justified in their bigotry. Worst, I recall my own attempts to undermine my mother’s experiences merely because I felt that her pain blinded her to some assumed truth of the world.

This stigma that pain devalues the argument of oppressed bodies needs to die. We must acknowledge that there is a system of privileges—simple things like knowing your life is valued, that justice is absolutely guaranteed, that you will appear non-threatening enough to avoid death, your opinion is always necessary and that anywhere you go you will be free of racial prosecution or othered– set up in this country and anyone who is a victim of it is not a credible advocate for change is harmful to growth. We judge that because they cannot be entirely logical in a situation that they are wrong. As if logical arguments have led to a safer, more pleasant world.

Some of the most valid changes in history have been established not on logic but on emotion. Slavery, in some lights, was in fact the most logical method of exploitation to develop America into a superpower in just under 200 years. However, the most sensible argument provided against it was based on emotion. “These people may look different, but they are human and they experience pain. Abusing them, and harming them, in these ways are wrong both religiously and philosophically”. So, why is it that we feel that we can disregard the pain of black bodies as a reasonable argument to openly acknowledge racial privilege and systems of oppression in this country especially in a discussion on social and societal reform based on race?

Members of the black community have a lot of things to say about this. In the safety of homes, churches, and barbershops—safe zones– we’ve accumulated a number of arguments regarding why we are disbelieved. One theory is that at the end of the day we still seem different on some base-level. So we’ve had those niches of African-Americans who changed themselves to appear more white appealing—non-black spouses for mixed raced children, shunning “black” music, art and culture to appeal to whiter worlds– but they still aren’t believed. Some suggest it has something to do with respectability politics. They think maybe, if they look credible that they will be believed. They peacock in their suits, ties, and clean shaven haircuts cleaned of black curls and naps. They aren’t believed either. Some look to logos for their arguments, and dig deep into calm, calculated answers with strong evidence. They definitely aren’t believed and are in fact often shunned as “preachy”.

An impasse has developed along with an answer: because white privilege in itself describes a system of privileges that is experienced on a micro and macro-level it becomes harder to empathize. When another person has to come up with convoluted analogies about how blackness is experienced in this country and how whiteness benefits, it only further justifies the existence of that said thing.

When someone says it hurt like a wound, you are able to sympathize to an experience of pain you’ve have earlier in your life. When someone says they were hurt by the death of a loved one, everyone understands this profound sense of loss. When someone experiences heartbreak, it is one of the easiest intangible emotions to recall mentally. On the other hand, when I say that I was hurt by being called a Nigger, a Coon, a Thug, or how cultural appropriation affects me emotionally and spiritually, I am forced to paint a picture to justify my emotions and forcefully invoke empathy. I am then also forced to access my credibility on this, and then I am challenged logically. I have to work twice as hard to access a basic human empathy that says believe that I am in pain, and know that you have the ability to end it with just your actions.

A discussion is necessary for many of these stigmas and problems to be adjusted. Systematic Oppression and White Privilege were all built and subsequently woven into the state of imperialized countries with the understanding that it is subconscious and silent yet still obvious. I can’t help but think about what would have happened if my teacher had told that childhood enemy of mine that using those words were wrong and how it would have affected him. In many ways, it justified my blossoming perspective of blackness in this country. There might actually be more cows with spots in this world, if people were willing to discuss race openly—and respectfully to those who are at risk—and consider the idea that maybe they are at an unfair advantage.